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Spring 2003

Mitrovica, Andrew. Covert Entry: Spies, Lies and Crimes Inside Canada’s Secret
Service. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2002.

Since the establishment of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service


(CSIS) in 1984, opportunities for Canadians to get a glimpse of the inner work-
ings of our domestic secret service have been few and far between. The literature
on the topic remains scarce and the release of Andrew Mitrovica’s Covert Entry
triggered high hopes of seeing a contemporary, in-depth look into CSIS activities
finally reaching the shelves of our bookstores and libraries. However, what The
Globe and Mail investigative journalist delivers is interesting at best, and disap-
pointing in many ways.
Covert Entry is about John J. Farrell and his involvement in CSIS opera-
tions and activities. The book starts by briefly addressing Farrell’s tough child-
hood, as well as his first jobs as security guard and prison warden. Despite poor
academic results and an early-earned criminal record, Farrell’s drive and ambi-
tion convinced one of Canada Post’s Managers for Security and Investigation
Services to hire him as a Postal Inspector at the age of 21. Finally, after about two
years spent with Canada Post, Farrell was “borrowed” by CSIS in the capacity of
an Auxiliary Postal Inspector.
The core of Mitrovica’s book describes the day-to-day activities of Farrell,
including the role he played in the mail interception operation directed against
union activists at Canada Post. (pp. 60-75)1 In 1994, while working on a crim-
inology degree to become a full-time intelligence officer, Farrell was brought
into the CSIS’ Special Operational Services (SOS). Mitrovica describes in great
detail the operations in which Farrell took part, from the sometimes tricky mail
interception programme code-named OPERATION VULVA (sic) (pp. 86-281) to
the high-profile surveillance OPERATION STANLEY CUP directed against two
Russian agents of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). (pp. 173-197) While
the author goes into interesting operational details, he focuses more on the count-
less, quite serious security lapses that Farrell noted during his involvement in
CSIS operations.
The description of Farrell’s activities also allows the reader to get a
glimpse into the methods and gadgets used for CSIS operations, whether it is
screening garbage (pp. 46 and 65), intercepting and opening private mail (pp. 84
and 85), setting up front companies (p. 163), breaking in apartments (pp. 194 and
205), loading a car with listening and tracking devices (p. 207), or stealing a
Crown key to open relay boxes, mailboxes and apartment panels. (p. 207) But
the reader also gets plenty of details about what Farrell perceives to be goofs,
hard-to-believe security breaches, amateurish handling of operations, and abus-
es of CSIS’ goods and moneys by intelligence officers.
The last part of Mitrovica’s book describes how Farrell, in 1997, slowly
but surely started to be pushed aside from CSIS operations, finally leading to his

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The Journal of Conflict Studies

“divorce” with the Service in 1998. Throughout the book, we get to understand
the importance of money to Farrell and consequently why, as his involvement in
secret intelligence started to decline, he invested so much energy in trying to get
financial compensation for his unpaid overtime work and his employment termi-
nation. He even exchanged correspondence with CSIS Director Ward Elcock,
telling him about all the unlawful activities he had been part of in the name of
national security – but to no avail. CSIS stood firm on its argument that Farrell
had never been a CSIS employee because all through these years Farrell
remained officially attached to and paid by Canada Post. On 6 December 2002,
after the book was published, Justice MacKay of the Federal Court sided with
CSIS and dismissed Farrell’s court action on the premise that, according to the
law, only individuals appointed directly by the Director of CSIS can become
CSIS employees (decision T-1726-01). 2 Therefore, since he had not been for-
mally appointed by the Director, Farrell’s only employment link was with
Canada Post.
After reading the book, one might feel sympathy for a young man who
dedicated many years of his life, broke the law and took risks for the benefit of
CSIS, and who is only asking fair compensation for his dedication. But this is not
the complete picture. Indeed, right from the outset, Mitrovica – who once said
that “the press in Canada is the only intelligence agency that is accountable
before the public” – clearly states his bias, and all through the book, we only get
to read about the “good little boy” outraged by the actions of the “evil govern-
ment agency.” This one-sided view greatly undermines the credibility of the
book as the reader perceives Farrell’s story as the personal vendetta of a bitter
young man. In addition, Mitrovica focuses on a very limited area of CSIS oper-
ations and he seems to leave aside the fundamental premise that a secret service
has to act covertly and sometimes on the edge of the law to be effective. This
book is not about Canadian intelligence but rather about how amazing Farrell is
and how disastrous CSIS is. Still, it gives invaluable access to the details of some
CSIS contemporary operations and to the way things get done in the field. But
one should not forget that after all, this book is about a bitter, angry former CSIS
informant who seems to have nothing to lose by telling “his truth” to a well-
known journalist.

Jerome Mellon completed a Master of Arts degree in Intelligence and


International Relations at the University of Salford in 2002, and is presently a lit-
igation lawyer in Montreal.

Endnotes

1. See CSIS, “Allegations that CSIS is spying on postal workers,” News Release, 11 July 2000;
and Jeff Sallot and Andew Mitrovica, “Postal union threatens lawsuit to halt spying,” The Globe
and Mail, 12 July 2000.
2. Available at http://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/fct/2002/2002fct1271.html.

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